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Lara Croft: Tomb Raider (4K)

Paramount // PG-13 // February 27, 2018 // Region 0
List Price: $31.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Thomas Spurlin | posted March 16, 2018 | E-mail the Author
The Film:

The late-‘90s saw a few unique transformation to action on the big screen, driven by computer-generated wizardry that brought all sorts of unique realms to life: ancient Egypt with a remake of The Mummy, techno-music infused vampire hunting with Blade, among others. While the movies were embracing new energies and exploring the wonders of CG assistance, videogames were expanding into three-dimensional action experiences, one of the first, most popular and enduring being Lara Croft and her cavernous pursuits for ancient artifacts in the Tomb Raider series. Shifts in the pace and tone of action during the ‘90s / early 2000s and the popularity of videogames leads us to Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, which attempts to capture the whimsy of exploring the crypts of ancient civilization, the techno pulse of contemporary action, and the distinct personality of the game's titular lead character. Angelina Jolie's embodiment of Lara Croft turns out to be the most successful element of this adaptation, though, which latches onto buxom style and power fantasy over keeping the writing's feet on solid ground.

We're instantly introduced to skilled exploration and history expert Lara Croft (Jolie) -- upside down, no less -- as she's finishing up looking through a crumbling tomb … of a fashion. As she's decompressing following her latest exercise, the extent of her privileged lifestyle is revealed: the immenseness of her inherited finances within her huge mansion, the inhouse technology expert that it can afford her, and the countless tools at her disposal. Weighed down by lingering downhearted feelings near the anniversary of her father's death, Lara discovers a functioning device that seems to point at a massive shift in planetary alignments, a development in which that the mythical Illuminati -- especially high-ranking official Powell (Iain Glen) -- have a strong vested interest. With an old archaeological acquaintance, Alex West (Daniel Craig), thrown in the mix to complicate matters, Lara Croft rushes to discover the mechanisms of how these mystical planetary alignments are significant, and dismantle them before Powell uses them.

Lara Croft: Tomb Raider has a tricky hurdle to cross in its introduction: while some audiences will be inherently familiar with the videogame character, cinematic storytelling needs more elaboration on her traits, and the game series doesn't offer that much to work with there. She's wealthy, trained, and charismatic in a distinctly English manner, and that's about the extent that the foursome of screenwriters really had to work with in her late-‘90s iteration. They've expanded on Croft's character, but the desire to appeal to a target audience comes through in the intro, which mostly emphasizes her reckless attitude, lingering sadness over being orphaned, and, uh, her sultry looks. This drags out the period before Lara Croft gets her hands dirty with raiding tombs, where lengthy shower scenes and shots of her zipping around in desirable vehicles proves to be a sluggish opening, resulting in a similar situation to that of a videogame where the player's ready for the requisite introduction to end so they can get started with the action.

Fortunately, Angelina Jolie impressively embodies what the Tomb Raider entity is all about, immediately shown with dual pistols strapped to her thighs and a smirk on her face while engaging an enemy. She makes for a formidable heroine whose backstory involving the loss of her family draws sympathy rather effortlessly, which doesn't require much from Jolie beyond ditching the smirk and whispering melancholy reflections through her English accent. Both physically and in attitude, she's just about perfect as a tangible rendering of that era's Lara Croft, even though the larger-than-life projection of her traits can be overbearing when she coordinates with allies and butts heads with foes. When she spars with the mustache-twirlin' villainy of Iain Glen's scenery chewing, there's very little authenticity in their rapport, and her flirtations back-and-forth with Daniel Craig's pre-Bond treasure hunter relies on assumed chemistry from their past to carry their interactions forward. These are uncomplicated, blunt theatrics that lead to little development, but on the bright side, they also let Jolie's poise speak for itself.

Once Lara Croft: Tomb Raider shifts from building the mystery of the planetary alignment to delving into spaces inhabited by ancient civilizations, the moving parts of standard late-‘90s, early-‘00s action take over, propelled by unmissable shifts to drum-heavy music as the rules of physics and gunfire are embellished. It's the kind of movie where dozens of lackeys with scoped assault rifles miss shots up close, yet Lara knocks ‘em out with a makeshift screwdriver gun apparatus … in the dark, largely unable to see their position. Senseless action or not, what's unusual about this adaptation is that, well, the main character doesn't do a whole lot of the independent tomb-raidin' that she'd become famous for over the years. Visual elements may remind players of similar settings from the game -- snowy journeys through the mountains, temples with vined overgrowth, cavernous inner chambers -- but Lara doesn't get much of an opportunity to explore these settings independently, where she's conveniently pointed in the right direction by ghostly spirits and does very little of her signature rock-climbing.

As a decades-long fan of videogames and someone who roots on efforts to create iconic female action stars, I've given Lara Croft: Tomb Raider numerous chances over the years, hoping that perhaps other, better films I've watched in close proximity were impacting judgments placed upon its execution. But with each screening and each evolution of the Lara Croft character in the videogames, Simon West's take on the franchise grows more dated and ridiculous, an echo of the previous decade's style of blockbuster filmmaking and a hokey attempt at crafting a self-assured heroine in the vein of Indiana Jones. It's hard to deny the fun energy generated by the film, where everyone -- especially Angelina Jolie -- have invested themselves in the spunky, relatively self-aware intentions of the adaptation, swept up in the nonsensical timey-wimey plotting. A worthwhile movie this doesn't make, though, and cradling those quasi guilty-pleasure intentions gets tougher to do as more credibly entertaining female-centered players keep entering the action-blockbuster lobby and hitting their targets.

The 4K Blu-ray:

Just in time for the second movie adaptation of the character, based off Ubisoft's rebooted videogame universe, Paramount have given Lara Croft: Tomb Raider the go-ahead to descend onto the 4K UltraHD format. It's an appealing package: a 'shopped photo of Angelina Jolie in character has been projected against a soft-blue background for the cover artwork, which has been given a shimmery, pseudo-opalescent finish on the slipcase. The interior isn't so exciting, though it's Paramount standard operating procedure, which a black-topped 4K disc, a blue-topped Blu-ray mirroring the previous release, and a Digital Copy slip.

Video and Audio:

Lara Croft: Tomb Raider made her first big-screen appearance on the momentum of Super 35-shot cinematography from Peter Menzies Jr., trotting around the globe from snowy landscapes to humid rainforests and moist caverns. Unique textures are coaxed out of the photography, but the general appearance of the film leans stylistically grainier and washed-out, complimenting the earthen tones of its intentions. This makes for a unique visual experience in high-definition, and especially with HDR's unique elevation of brighter elements, boostiong vibrant higher-end elements -- the glow of light on the more robust skin tones and metal, the brighter elements of snow, the orange sparks within glowing orbs of magic -- to attractively natural levels of punch and responsiveness. Shadowy caverns, dimmed mansions, and chill-out sessions outdoors in Tibet sport suitable-enough contrast to enhance dimensionality, though black levels are bland and elevated in coordination with the film's visual style. Grain and coarse textures of the locations receive a modest amplification in 4K, and shades of green and red in foliage pop out from the image, yielding a fine improvement on what's ultimately pallid action-movie cinematography. Lara Croft: Tomb Raider has been framed at its correct 2.35:1 aspect ratio.

This was one of the early titles to hit the high-definition media formats -- both Blu-ray and HD-DVD -- so Lara Croft: Tomb Raider was saddled with a standard DTS and Dolby Digital 5.1 tracks, leaving it without that Master Audio goodness in the US up until this new release. The added nuance can undoubtedly be discerned between the soundtracks, as this 5.1 treatment boasts more breadth, clarity, and just a touch more oomph in gunshots … though it's still lacking in that last regard. The action hits hard early on with bullets pummeling metal and Egyptian stone crumbling around the heroine, and breaking down that scene's qualities can pretty much summarize most of the strengths and weaknesses of the entire track. Persistent sound effects engage the rear points of the surround channels, such as a twitchy robotic arm rushes across the stage, while the revving of engines (cars and motorcycles) move elegantly across the front end of the stage; there is a few-second stretch early on that has a pitch distortion in the back channel, though. Angelina Jolie's smooth alto delivery of an English accent remains nuanced and reactive at the front end as well, while the deeper registry of Iain Glen's villainous Powell effortlessly touches upon silky bass responses. Explosions and gunfire offer plenty of pop, but there isn't a whole lot of lower-end potency to those gunshots or harder explosions; the tumbling of bodies hits a decent amount of midrange bass. It's a solid track with a few dulled and distorted moments.

Special Features:

No surprise here: zero new extras have been crafted for the 4K release, with the only special feature included on the new disc being the Audio Commentary with Simon West that can be viewed alongside the new audiovisual treatment of the movie. The remaining extras have been covered in DVDTalk's review of the standard Blu-ray -- click here for an in-depth rundown -- and are as follows:

  • Digging into Tomb Raider (25:27, 4x3)
  • Crafting Lara Croft (6:49, 4x3)
  • The Visual Effects of Tomb Raider (20:19, 4x3)
  • Tomb Raider Stunts (9:28, 4x3)
  • Are You Game? (8:00, 4x3)
  • 4 Deleted Scenes (7:18, 16x9)
  • U2 Music Video for Elevation (4:02, 4x3)
  • Alternate Main Title (2:06, 16x9)
  • Teaser Trailer (2:03, 16x9) and Theatrical Trailer (2:19, 16x9).

Final Thoughts:

Angelina Jolie makes a hell of a Lara Croft, but Simon West couldn't prop her up with a Tomb Raider movie that could do her justice. Despite the actress' charismatic embodiment of the iconic action videogame star, the action's dumb yet dull and the mythology involving planetary alignments, mythical devices, and the Illuminati neither engages nor holds up to much scrutiny. There's enough personality and antiquated mysticism in Lara Croft's exploits that it makes one really want to like Tomb Raider, but the inanity of what happens ends up being too much weight for the heroine to support on her shoulders, and she isn't given ample opportunity to really be much of a ... well, tomb raider in this film. The 4K UltraHD treatment looks and sounds rather splendid, though, which should make those guilty-pleasure aficionados out there happy. Most, however, will be satisfied enough by giving this one a Rental.

Thomas Spurlin, Staff Reviewer -- DVDTalk Reviews | Personal Blog/Site
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